Suddenly I’m back in college — and back in the college library.

Since arriving at this biography conference, I've been flooded with memories of college. Cut off from my usual friends and family, figuring out the lay-out of a new place, eating dining-hall food three times a day, making small-talk with people I don't know as I struggle to memorize the pertinent details of their lives, deciding whether to raise my hand to make a comment during a seminar discussion...it all feels very familiar.

I feel the urge to be social, to get a fix on everyone around me, to make sure I'm not missing anything. At the same time, I want to retreat and be alone with my familiar solitary self.

At least I don't have to size up the romantic prospects.

One of my happiness resolutions is to "find an area of refuge," that is, work to find a peaceful refuge for my thoughts. I assumed I'd invented this notion (using a term I lifted from a sign near an elevator at Yale Law School, a locution that struck me as very funny), but now it occurs to me that all I've done is to give a different label to the much-mocked admonition to "find your happy place." Aaaack.

Oh well. In the area of happiness, it turns out, some of the most useful ideas are embarrassingly banal.

In any event, just as in college, I've found my area of refuge, a/k/a my happy place: the library. And this library is comfortingly similar to the library to which I retreated in college, with an intricately patterned ceiling, leather-covered chairs, and the calming smell of wood paneling.

Plus, all our talk about the challenges of biography has prompted me to call up my memories of writing Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill and Forty Ways to Look at JFK.

What a pleasure it was to work on those projects! To remember a happy time is a distinctive kind of happiness, and a refuge that always waits.

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